(Photo by Chris Pobst, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- One game between the Charleston Bluejays and the East Prairie Eagles is usually a treat for any fan of the rivalry to watch. Throw in a doubleheader and it's twice as fun.
Such was the case on Thursday evening as they squared off for two games at East Prairie splitting the two-game series.
The Eagles pulled off a thrilling comeback win in the first game of the day to claim a 2-1 victory and the famed 'red and blue' trophy.
Riding the coat tails of Charleston's No. 1 starter, James Naile who at one point had a perfect game going until the bottom of the fourth inning, the Bluejays had a 1-0 lead and three more outs to get in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After Naile allowed his first free pass of the game by hitting East Prairie's Connor Scott with a pitch, pinch runner Matt Dorris would eventually tie the game.
Zach Downing pushed Dorris across when a ball went through the legs Charleston's Marshall Stallings at second base. Aaron Miller singled in the next at-bat to move pinch runner Parker Butler to second which eventually led to another fielding error in Stallings' area that had Butler waving his arms across home as teammates mobbed him behind the plate.
"You hate for anybody to lose that ball game," Charleston head coach Michael Minner said. "Marshall has been my second baseman. He's the kid you want out there and you hate for that to fall on a kid's shoulders where he kicks a few balls."
East Prairie (3-2) was able to hang around long enough by hopping on the arm of Eagles' starter Connor Scott as well as making the right plays at the right time.
"We just hung around and kept it 1-0 and we was able to take advantage of a couple of late mistakes," East Prairie head coach Gary Scott said. "We were just fortunate to pull it out there at the end.
"They made some good plays earlier in the game that stopped a few rallies," Scott added. "But, in the end, they let us have it."
Connor Scott received the win as both he and Naile went the distance. Scott allowed one earned run on four hits and two walks while also striking out 10. Naile, who was the hard-luck loser, allowed two unearned runs on four hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.
"I thought we played really well the first game," coach Scott said. "We didn't hit the ball like we're capable of but you have to credit their pitcher. I thought James did an outstanding job.
"We were just able to counter with Connor and keep us in the game."
Charleston's lone run was gained in the third inning when Stallings scored on a groundout by Danny McKinney. Naile led the Bluejays with two hits as well while Stallings and Shane Scott each added hits as well.
Mikey Russell had two of the Eagles' four hits while Kaleb Williford and Miller chipped in with one hit apiece.
The finale of the doubleheader was fueled a bit by their first game loss as the Bluejays pulled off the 4-3 win with two impressive individual performances.
Charleston's Ethan Browning, who pitched the third complete game of the day, received the win after seven innings of quality work.
"We got a lot of buddies on East Prairie's side and it's always nice to beat them," Browning said. "When we lost it just gave us more drive to come back and play. We made a couple of errors but we tried to stay up and our guys bounced back."
Browning pitched a total of 122 pitches, 77 for strikes, and allowed one earned run on three hits and four walks. He also struck out eight as Browning may have solidified the No. 2 starter role with his showing against the Eagles and his hard work in the off-season.
"Before this year, I may not have been the best pitcher but I've worked on it a little bit and I feel good on the mound, finally," Browning said. "I've got my mechanics down.
"Overall, if I wouldn't have had those eight other boys behind me I couldn't have done it."
One of his 'boys' was left fielder Shane Scott who came up with a big play in a big way in the deciding seventh inning.
A rocket off the bat of Williford looked to be destined for a bounce off the left field fence over the head of both Scott and Trey Watkins in center field. Scott, who possesses lightning speed, galloped into the gap and made an over-the-head, sliding catch to retire Williford.
"I just caught it off the bat and it was real high," he said. "Speed helped out a lot and I just chased it down. I just kept my eye on it and thought I might be able to get to it or I might not. I just had to run."
That was the first out of the seventh inning that could have easily been a double or triple and give the Eagles the tying run in scoring position.
"Shane Scott, he can go and get the ball out there in left," said Browning. "As soon as it came off the bat I was thinking double or triple. When I saw him track that ball down and catch it, even when I saw that he caught it, I couldn't believe it.
"It was a great play."
The game ended, fittingly for the Bluejays, with a ground ball to Stallings who calmly made the scoop and throw to first.
"Boy, he came and got that one," Minner joked. "He wasn't going to miss that one."
East Prairie led for the majority of the game, obtaining a 3-1 lead at the end of the third inning.
A burst of three runs from the Bluejays put them ahead for good as Danny McKinney and Justin Hardin came up with timely hits to push across two runs.
Williford, Russell, Miller and Dorris each had a single for the Eagles as two hits from Stallings and Zach Rowland led the Bluejays (3-2).
Russell receive the loss after five innings of work and allowing four earned runs on eight hits and three walks. He also struck out six batters.
|Charleston||001 000 0 -- 1|
|East Prairie||000 000 2 -- 2|
WP -- Connor Scott (E). LP -- James Naile (C). Multiple hitters -- (C) Naile 2-3. (EP) -- Mikey Russell 2-3.
|East Prairie||021 000 0 -- 3|
|Charleston||100 030 x -- 4|
WP -- Ethan Browning (C). LP -- Mikey Russell (E). Multiple hitters -- (C) Marshall Stallings 2-3, Zach Rowland 2-3. 2B -- Stallings, Rowland, Danny McKinney (C).